So you’ve purchased your first RV. Regardless of whether it is a new or used unit, it is a big investment. Protecting that investment to get the most out of it over the long haul should be a top priority!
One popular way to do that is to add slide out covers (also known as “slide toppers” or “slideout awnings”) to protect the tops of your slide outs.
So what exactly are RV slide covers? And, are they worth the investment?
RV slide covers are an accessory designed to protect the tops of your slide outs from debris, water and sunshine – limiting the possibility of those elements entering your trailer via the seal around your slide-out.
Slide covers are typically an “aftermarket” accessory (not standard on most trailiers). In most cases they are well worth the investment, saving your time clearing off the top of the slideout and protecting the inside of your trailer.Let’s take a look at some of the different types of slide covers, their benefits, downsides and best applications.
Retractable vs Rigid Slide Covers
Slide covers come in two basic flavors – retractable and rigid.
Retractable covers which look like fabric awnings and fixed models which are typically constructed from rigid aluminum sheeting. The vast majority of slide covers are of the retractable type. These attach to the top edge of the slide at one end and to the body of the RV on the other. As the slide moves in and out, the slide topper automatically extends and retracts with it. The covers operate on tension, and depend on the motion of the slideout itself to open and retract.
This is the more common type of RV slideout cover because it can be permanently installed while allowing for normal slide operation for easily for travel. If your traveling lifestyle requires operating your slides frequently, or traveling a lot then these will be the best option for you.
The alternative to retractable slide toppers are rigid toppers. Rigid slide toppers are also affixed to the top of the slide and the body of the RV. However, they do not retract so they must be removed as a unit in order to bring the slides in.
Rigid slideout covers offer better protection then retractable fabric toppers. They are also quieter in the wind and are generally more durable in the long run.
The tradeoff is that rigid slide toppers are harder to install, harder to remove, and nearly impossible to pack away for a road trip. This makes them best for RVs that are parked in a one spot for a long time.
Benefits of Slide Covers:
Regardless of the type of slide cover you choose, they all perform the same basic functions. Here are some of the benefits of RV Slide Toppers.
1. Protects from falling debris
Slide toppers provide an added layer of protection from falling debris like branches or hail. While they are not designed to prevent damage from large debris, they may be just enough to prevent damage that would have otherwise occurred to an unprotected roof.
2. Prevents debris buildup from damaging slideout seals
Without slide toppers, branches and other debris can collect on the tops of your slides. These will damage the seals if they are not removed before moving the slide in. Damaged seals around the outside of your slideout are costly to replace and can lead to even costlier water damage inside your RV. Slide covers prevent debris from collecting on the top of the slide and thus prevent that debris from damaging the seals around the slideout.
3. Reduces sun damage to the slide
The decreased exposure to the sun will help preserve the integrity of your roof material, which will degrade over time from the sun’s UV rays.
4. Keeps the RV cooler by shading the slide
RVs have pretty thin insulation in the roof areas, particularly in the slide outs. Keeping a cover over them can easily lower the inside temperature a couple degrees on a sunny day. This means greater comfort and less stress on your RV cooling system.
5. Keeps rain, snow and ice from collecting on the slide tops
This can help prevent water damage in your RV over the long haul.
Disadvantages of Slide Covers:
While there are many benefits to using slide toppers, there are some drawbacks. They are, namely:
- Wind Noise
- Added Weight
- Loss of Connection with your Rig
Let’s take a deeper look at each of these.
Retractable fabric slide toppers tend to run in $250 to $500 and up range, depending on length. That’s per slide, uninstalled. They are a fairly easy DIY project for two people, but if you’re not comfortable with the project you would be better leaving it to the pros. If that’s the case expect to pay at least a couple hundred dollars more per topper for installation.
2. Wind Noise
The fabric toppers will flap in the wind which can create noise that some find objectionable. There are tricks to tighten them up but eliminating all wind noise is nearly impossible. When its windy out, a fabric slideout cover is going to add to the noise when compared to no slideout cover.
Slide toppers are one more thing on your RV you will have to maintain. In most cases, this is easily offset by the decrease in other maintenance they provide for. It is best practice to carry some spare parts or plan for a failure if you travel a lot. A stuck or broken slide cover can quickly dampen your travel plans if you don’t have the necessary things to deal with it.
4. Durability (Sagging)
As slide covers age, they can begin to sag, particularly the longer ones. This sagging can allow water and other debris to build up in them which will have to be taken care of manually. In many cases its similar to having an awning extended for a period of time. Like the wind noise issue, there are some cheap and easy hacks to counter this issue.
5. Added Weight
While each unit isn’t that heavy (typically 25 to 50 lbs), if you install three or four of them they tend to add up. Many RVs – travel trailers in particular – have very limited cargo carrying capacity. That capacity is set by the empty vehicle weight as it leaves the factory. Any accessories you add on later will detract from that.
6. Loss of “Connection” with your Rig
This is an often overlooked downside. Getting up on your roof to clean your slides each time you bring the slides in forces you to do at least a passive inspection of your roof. When you’re up there, you may notice something that needs repair that can save you big money down the road. Having slide covers can allow you to get lazy and miss some of the issues you would have otherwise caught. Slide covers or not, make sure you have a routine roof/slide out maintenance plan that you stick to.
If you go strictly by the benefits versus drawbacks it’s easy to see why slide covers are so popular. The final factors in determining if they are worthwhile falls upon application and personal preference. Here’s a look at some scenarios where slide toppers work best, and where they don’t.
When to consider slide covers:
On RVs that don’t have a walkable roof.
If your RV did not come from the factory with a ladder up to the roof then the roof is probably not walkable. This makes it difficult to clean the tops of the slide while your are traveling. Slide toppers will greatly reduce the need to clean the slide tops and are almost a must have for this type of RV.
If you just don’t want to walk on the roof of your RV.
If you physically cannot climb, or don’t feel comfortable climbing onto your roof to clean your slides – then a slideout cover might be a great option for you.
If you frequently camp in heavily wooded, rainy or snowy areas.
This includes much of the eastern/northeastern US. These areas tend to have the most debris that will collect on your slide roofs and they also have the least wind to blow that debris free. This means you need to be cleaning off the top of the slideout each time – unless you have a cover.
If you frequently camp in the hot, unshaded areas.
This includes most of the southern half of the US during the summer. These areas are hot, the sun is intense and they tend to be less windy. This means heat is constantly bearing down on the seals surrounding your slideout.
When slide covers are simply unnecessary:
If you frequently camp in the Great Plains, southwest or desert areas, then a slideout cover might not be as useful. These areas tend to be windy with few trees to deposit debris on your slide tops. Yes, slide covers will still keep the heat down and protect the roof from UV rays – but the cost and wind noise may not make the benefits worthwhile to you.
The Final Factor – Personal Preference
Finally, there’s the matter of personal preference. If you don’t mind, or if you prefer, getting up on the roof to clean your slide tops before departing on your next journey then the benefits may not offset downsides. This might be tied to how often you are relocating your trailer and where you are traveling. If the idea of climbing onto the roof to clear things every other day is unappealing, then a slideout cover might be a worthwhile investment!
Owning an RV is a big investment, and we all want to do everything we can to protect that investment. Slide out covers provide an excellent way to achieve that at a fairly reasonable cost – protecting not just the slide but the rest of the camper that can be accessed via the seal around the slide.
Slideout covers do have actual drawbacks besides just the cost – added weight, more noise when its windy – and the benefits may be limited in some special circumstances. All things considered though, RV slide covers are generally an excellent investment which will add life to your RV and reduce the time you spent maintaining your rig.
Tom Blaha bought his first RV in 2011, a 20-year-old Dutchman that he fixed up and renovated to make it road-worthy. He currently owns a 36-foot SportTrek 327VIK that he has made significant modifications to. He spent 2 years full-time RVing with his family of 6 – covering 35,000 miles and visiting 22 national parks and 43 states between 2017 and 2019. Today Tom’s family continues to enjoy RVing from their home base in the southeast US, where he also runs a small farm/homestead and a plastics machining company.